Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Puzzle Agent 2 Review

Puzzle Agent 2
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Genre: Adventure Puzzle
Platforms: PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone, PSN

Puzzle Agent has been described as the American version of the Professor Layton series. Having never played a Professor Layton game, I can’t say how true that is. What I can say is that the game felt like mix between X-Files and the Coen brothers’ Fargo. But just like the main character, Nelson Tethers, players weren’t satisfied with just one visit to puzzle-obsessed town of Scoggins, Minnesota.

Puzzle Agent 2 picks up right where the first game left off. Agent Tethers, having reopened the Scoggins factory that supplied the White House with its erasers, returns to Washington, D.C., but knows more is going than what he found. Like any good FBI agent, Tethers returns to Scoggins, only to find the town in a state even weirder than he left it. Despite what he did for them in the previous game, the citizens of Scoggins are no help, especially the Sheriff who holds back any evidence that might assist your investigation. The innkeeper will lie to Tethers, even though she’s terrible at it, and the customer at the diner won’t talk to you in fear of falling into entrapment. But you’ll also meet new characters who share Tethers’s affinity for puzzles including the alluring Korka Tetirdottir and anthropologist Alfred Versteckt.

Upon completion, Puzzle Agent 2 answers some of the questions that were left hanging at the end of the first game. The only problem is that it creates just as many new questions. You’ll learn why there were astronauts in the first game, but not where they came from. You’ll discover people missing from Scoggins, but never find them by the end of the game. There were also missed opportunities to expand characters. Korka seems like a great love-interest for Agent Tethers, but instead she’s reduced to a conspiracy theory nut. Vegetable Crimes Agent Jim Ingraham is set up well to learn from Tethers and eventually become an apprentice, but again, he’s not developed further than just being Tethers’s assistant or secretary while he’s away.

The story and characters of Puzzle Agent 2 are the driving force of the game. They keep you wanting to play just to see how things turn out. But for a game with the word puzzle in the title, its puzzles aren’t its strongest suit. Despite having over 30 puzzles, they generally fall into three categories: puzzles where you move things, puzzles involving numbers, and puzzle with pictures. There were a few moments where, when solving a puzzle, you would be interrupted by a story beat. Those felt unique and special, but serve my point of the focus being on story rather than puzzles.

The art design is still as beautiful as before. Graham Annable’s Grickle style of drawing feels authentic, like it was created on a sheet of lined paper. The thick outlines of a charcoal pencil make characters and objects pop out against the backgrounds. Voice acting retains its charm with the indistinguishable Minnesotan accents of townsfolk. Each character reveals something about their personality through their speech, and that is something not easily done through inflection.

I enjoyed Puzzle Agent 2, but after two visits to Scoggins, it becomes a bit stale. More of the same works for only so long, so expanding the series to new locations and settings might spark the vibrancy it once had. I can only imagine how the game’s themes could be applied to other crimes and cities around the United States. Maybe set it in the southwest for a UFO spotting, or have a monster impersonating actors out in Hollywood? The work of Special Agent Nelson Tethers is, hopefully, not done.

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